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Road rules: Myth busters

Do you think you’re a good driver? You may have passed your test and be confident behind the wheel, but how well do you know the rules of the road?

If you’ve ever driven with a dirty number plate or left your engine running while you defrosted your windscreen, you could be in for a surprise!
Check out our full list of myth busters:

Do you have to display your car tax disc at all times?

As of 1st October 2014, your paper tax disc no longer needs to be displayed on the windscreen of your vehicle. If you still have a valid tax disc on display, then it can be removed and destroyed. This includes drivers in Northern Ireland, although they will still need to display their MOT disc.

Can you be fined for leaving your engine running while you defrost your windscreen?

You must turn your vehicle engine off while it’s stationary on a public road. Stationary idling is an offence and can incur a £20 fixed penalty fine. That doesn't mean you have to cut your engine at every red light; you are allowed to leave your engine running if you're stationary in traffic.

Is there a 10% discretion if you break the speed limit?

Many people think that exceeding the speed limit by 10% or less – so 43mph in a 40mph zone or 74mph on the motorway, for example – will not result in a prosecution. This is not the case. A police officer has the flexibility to let you off with a warning or give you the opportunity to attend a speed awareness course instead of prosecuting if you’re caught exceeding the speed limit by a small amount. If you’re caught by a fixed camera, however, it is perfectly legal for the police to send you a notice of intended prosecution for travelling at 51mph in a 50mph zone.

Can you use your mobile phone at the traffic lights?

You cannot use a mobile phone while driving, even when you stop at traffic lights or at any point where you will have to move again soon. This includes calls, texts and using any software on a smartphone. However, if you’re held up in an exceptionally long traffic jam and the engine is switched off, it is no longer considered driving and you can use your mobile phone.

Is it illegal to light a cigarette when driving?

If you light a cigarette while behind the wheel, it can be difficult to focus on driving because part of your attention is concerned with using a lighter. Although it’s not a criminal offence in itself to smoke while driving a vehicle, it can be classed as dangerous driving and you could be reprimanded for failing to drive with due care and attention. It is therefore a matter of how the activity of smoking affects your capability to drive sensibly and safely. There are also Government plans to ban smoking in a car with children, which is due to be enforced in England before May 2015.

Does a fully comprehensive insurance policy cover you to drive other cars at any time?

Every insurer has its own rules when it comes to comprehensive insurance and the level of cover you receive. Always check your cover before making any assumptions. If you’re under the age of 25, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to drive another car, even if you have fully comprehensive cover. If in doubt, refer to your policy documents or contact your insurer.

Can you be fined for driving too slowly?

Although there is no minimum speed limit on the majority of UK roads, you can still be fined for driving too slowly if it is seen that you are a hazard to other road users. There is no specific penalty for this offence, and as such, a punishment may be as little as a verbal warning by a police officer along with an explanation on the dangers of driving too slowly. In more serious instances, you could find yourself in court charged with driving without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other road users.

Is tailgating illegal?

Tailgating is considered as careless or dangerous driving. Under new laws which came into force in August 2013, you can receive a £100 on-the-spot fine and three points on your licence for tailgating.

Is it a criminal offence to flash your lights to warn other motorists of a police speed trap?

You may think you’re doing someone a favour if you flash your lights to warn them of a speed trap. In actual fact, you could be prosecuted for obstructing a police officer.

Do the police have to prove you were breaking the law when they pull you over?

Nowadays, most police vehicles are fitted with video or other equipment and it’s recommended that the accused driver is shown evidence at the scene. However, there is no obligation for this to be done. All the police officer has to do is advise you of the allegation, inform you of your rights and explain that action will be taken.

Is it ok to play loud music from your car?

Playing loud music in your car, especially with your windows down, could be regarded as distracted driving because it can prevent you from hearing what is going on around you. It can also cause a distraction to other road users.

Is it illegal to sound your horn while your vehicle is stationary?

It’s an offence to sound your horn while stationary unless you’re warning another road user of a potential hazard. You’re also not allowed to sound your horn in a residential area between the hours of 11.30pm and 7am under any circumstances.

Is it ok to drink water while driving?

While it’s not a criminal offence in itself to drink water while driving a vehicle, you could be penalised for driving without due care and attention. It is therefore a case of how the activity of drinking water (or any soft drink) at the wheel affects your ability to drive sensibly and safely on the road.

Can middle lane hoggers get on-the-spot fines?

Careless drivers who hog lanes can be punished under new laws that came into force in August 2013. Officers can issue £100 on-the-spot fines and add three points on your licence if you are seen to be hogging the middle lane.

Can you be fined for having a dirty number plate?

All registration marks, including those acquired through the DVLA's sales scheme, have to be displayed in line with The Road Vehicles (Display of Registration Marks) Regulations 2001. This states that number plates must be easy to read at all times and meet the British Standard.

Is it legal to mount a footpath and drive along a pathway in order to let a wide vehicle pass by?

It's an offence to drive your vehicle partly or fully along or across a footpath, pavement ot bridleway unless it's an emergency or you are gaining lawful access to a property.

Can you use your mobile phone if you’re parked up but still have the engine running?

If your engine is running, you may still be considered by the police to be driving, and are therefore breaking the law, even if you’re parked at the kerbside. Always park up in a safe place and switch off your engine to use a mobile phone. You can use hands-free phones, sat navs and two-way radios when you’re driving, but if the police think you’re distracted and not in control of your vehicle, you could still get fined.

Can you be fined for road rage?

Being abusive or making rude hand gestures to another road user or pedestrian can be deemed as inconsiderate, careless or dangerous driving. Consequently, you could be penalised for doing this.

Can you be caught by a speed camera if there are no following white marker lines on the road?

There are many speed cameras around that are in full working order and are not followed by white marker lines on the road.

Can you be fined for being in the wrong lane and forcing your way into a queue at a roundabout?

You could receive an on-the-spot fine for pushing in at a roundabout, or pushing into queuing traffic after overtaking. This is deemed as inconsiderate driving.

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